A mixed bag is on tap at downtown St. Petersburg's Oak & Stone

Still, there's much to explore.

click to enlarge Oak & Stone showcases a gleaming array of 48 DIY craft beer taps in downtown St. Pete. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Oak & Stone showcases a gleaming array of 48 DIY craft beer taps in downtown St. Pete.

Oak & Stone

2.5 out of 5 stars

199 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Appetizers: $5-$13; entrees: $10-$16; desserts: $4-$7; Wall of Beer: 25-80 cents per ounce; cocktails & wines by the glass: $8-$11; bourbon flights: $25. 727-565-4064, oakandstone.com.

I am an inveterate taster. If I could snap my fingers and make it happen, my preference would be to have one bite of each and every item on a restaurant’s menu. The same goes with libations. Being at a special event to sample 100 wines, for me, is nirvana — even as my powers of discernment may diminish. And that’s while spitting. Nonetheless, the world has so many flavors and nuances that I selfishly want to experience them all.

You can imagine my glee as I enter downtown St. Pete’s Oak & Stone to see the gleaming array of 48 DIY craft beer taps. Not just that, but each selection has its own mounted iPad packed with info so that hops geeks may delve deep, limited only by their personal level of obsession. It’s the perfect mashup of beer and technology.

What a kick it is for guests 21 and over to self-serve from the Wall of Beer. RFID (radio-frequency identification) wristbands use electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track guests. The software links guests to their tabs, based on how many ounces they pour during an individual visit. After 40 ounces, the link stops to be sure you don’t overindulge and hurt your chances of being confirmed to the Supreme Court. You are, however, able to reload. This amazing breakthrough provides, as the Oak & Stone website proudly proclaims, “an exceptional and unintimidating tasting experience for craft beer aficionados and novices alike.”

Beertenders are also close at hand to guide guests and offer helpful recommendations. Oh, and in case you’re the type of drinker who wants to make this whole thing into a science project, your receipt catalogs what you’ve sampled so you have a record of your exploration.

My elation soon wanes, however, as the room is hot. There are tall ceilings and an open door and the air conditioning isn’t adequate as set. I suppose this is no worse than many restaurants with the opposite issue, where it’s like eating inside a meat locker, but one young tablemate is sweating through her clothes.

click to enlarge The Voodoo Chicken Sandwich features a crispy buffalo chicken breast with Zapp's spicy chips. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
The Voodoo Chicken Sandwich features a crispy buffalo chicken breast with Zapp's spicy chips.

We begin with the pork cracklings — light, crisp fried pork rinds with a dash of chili oil and a grilled lime half to add a pop of fresh acidity. They’re nice, as is the burrata caprese with marinated grape tomatoes halves, a bunch of arugula, balsamic syrup, chili oil and a piece of crunchy garlic toast.

Philly cheesesteak egg rolls are exactly as they sound. Shaved ribeye with beer cheese is encased in crispy wrappers. The problem is that with a real cheesesteak, you’ve got a cushy Amoroso roll to absorb the juice and decadent fat. In an egg roll, it’s just greasy. Although the taste you know and love is present, stuff dripping down your fingers sort of ruins the moment. At least for me.

The biggest disappointment is the taunted wood-fired artisan pizza. As I established with my Pizza Marathon in 2015, I always test the acumen of a new pizza place by ordering a classic margherita pie. Your taste buds can always be fooled by the razzle dazzle of delicious toppings. But when all you have is crust, tomato, cheese and basil, there’s no place to hide. On the positive side, the pizza’s crust is crisp. However, the dough lacks tang, chew and char. The puffy edge, or cornicione, is nonexistent. There’s simply nothing to chew on; the cracker-like crust crumbles under your bite.

What Oak & Stone does offer is five classics, 16 specialties and an unusually diverse array of toppings if you go the build-your-own route. There are eight cheeses, 12 veggies and 10 proteins to choose from, not to mention a gluten-free crust.

click to enlarge On the dessert side, the key lime pie is tart and pleasing. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
On the dessert side, the key lime pie is tart and pleasing.

Besides the signature pizza, we opt for the chorizo spiced turkey burger topped with crushed avocado, smoked Gouda, arugula and spicy mayo. Sounds delightful, right? The sandwich is totally out of balance. As we’d say in the newspaper biz, they buried the lede. All you need to do is watch one episode of MasterChef to hear Gordon Ramsay caution about highlighting the main ingredient. The chorizo is so assertive that you’d be hard pressed to identify turkey as a component in this one.

The Voodoo Chicken Sandwich features a crispy breaded buffalo chicken breast with Zapp’s spicy chips, melted American cheese, lettuce, tomato and a touch of ranch dressing, plus a side of fries. It’s not distinctive, but it is a workable accompaniment to your pint glass.

Our server keeps returning to check on the table, yet it takes three visits to notice my water glass is empty and to remedy the situation. I realize there are no aspirations for fine dining here, though why check in without making sure this most basic tenant of good service is fulfilled?


Flip through more shots of what we ate from photographer Chip Weiner

As I’m preparing to write about my Oak & Stone experience, I get an email from our intrepid food photographer who says the apple torte with ice cream that we had is being removed from the menu. It’s like management read my mind. Kudos to them for realizing this dessert needs to be scrapped. The key lime pie is redeemingly tart and pleasing, but not enough to totally boost my spirits.

Still, there’s much to explore. Two of my tasters report a prior fun time with friends, when they loaded their pizza with meatballs and such. Perhaps that’s the secret — along with beer samples till your heart’s content.

CL Food Critic Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system, or email him at [email protected]

About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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